Can an intellectual be evangelical?
According to Mark Noll, in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual.” (preface) According to the author, evangelicals have not focused in on four specific things: science, the arts, politics and culture/society in general. The reason these things have not been affected is because there is no attention paid by evangelicals to be intellectual in these areas. There is not a singular evangelical periodical within the US that pursues any of these four disciplines. There is no scholarly work done at the research university level because none exist. These are the short comings of evangelicalism. There is no interest in developing the mind to the level that our secular counterparts have over the years.
So, what is the scandal?
“What does it mean to think like a Christian about the nature and workings of the physical world, the character of human social structures like government and the economy, the meaning of the past, the nature of artistic creation and the circumstances attending our perception of the world outside ourselves. Failure to exercise the mind for Christ is these areas has become acute in the twentieth century. That failure (to exercise the mind) is the scandal of the evangelical mind.
The author does a masterful job of undertaking a valuable social-historical survey of evangelicalism in the United States. From Jonathon Edwards to Charles Colson, Mark Noll carefully traces the history of American evangelicalism for the past 300 years. This snapshot gives a clear picture of how inept and lifeless evangelicals have become in the light of affecting society in any powerful way. Except for the spread of the Gospel. They seemed to have done that masterfully.
The author pursues the history of the major universities that started as Christian (Harvard, Princeton, Yale and others) and because of their elevation of intellect they became Darwinian in thought and moved away from anything evangelical. While the author intended to make a strong argument for intellectual mind use, I believe he counter proved his point about just pursuing the mind. 111 These institutions became non-Christian, non-evangelical or “secular” quickly. The heart and the appeal of the gospel was quickly overtaken by science, society, arts and pursuit of significant social influence. So, the mind or depth of the mind gravitated toward the secular.
The author displays a disdain for the Biblical view of Creation. He does not embrace it and traces it back to the Ellen G White and the Seventh Day Adventist instead of tracing it back to the book of Genesis. This is where the mind gravitates toward an explanation instead of toward a belief. The acceptance of the intellectual or scientific viewpoint instead of taking any attempt at verifying scripture. This is usually where the breakdown of theological intelligence causes me to pause.
When I studied at Oral Roberts University (a presumptuously developed institution, which makes my thinking appear, naïve, inept, or tendentious), I was confronted with the thought that some things are simply beyond my thoughts. They would continue to be mysteries, no matter how much thought I put into it. You know mysteries that I believe but I can’t explain.
The Mystery like the Trinity.
The Mystery like the Incarnate Christ
The Mystery like the Resurrection
The Mystery like Creation
At Portland Seminary (an evangelical seminary at George Fox University (which I believe is on the naughty list as well) I have studied and have been told that I am a practitioner of theology. I am not attempting to be a social, arts, political or scientific expert with my mind. Instead I am still pursuing an education to continue to fulfill the great commission of making disciples.
That is still a mystery for me. How can I represent Christ? I am an uneducated man who may look like a fool but I do believe. So maybe the author is correct. I can’t be both intellectual and evangelical so maybe I will just be that one other mystery: a Christian.
In an biographic piece, on the National Endowment for the Humanities website, concerning the author, his self description is interesting
“I am a historian who happens to be an evangelical Christian,” says Mark Noll, the Francis A. McAney Professor of History at Notre Dame. “The two are important to me but it is possible to distinguish these identities. In my work, I’m not an advocate for Christianity but because I’m an evangelical I am drawn to study religion and the history of religion.” Guess that explains some of this mystery.
Mark A Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company)
National Endowment for the Humanities website (www.neh.com)